Cassius Dio

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Lucius Cassius Dio (that is the authentic form of the name, the alleged cognomen Cocceianus is first mentioned in Byzantine times and is therefore most likely fictional; * around 163 in Nikaia in Bithynia ; † around 235 ) was a Roman senator , consul and historian .


Cassius Dio came from a rich family from the Greek east of the Imperium Romanum , who had succeeded in advancing into the imperial aristocracy, and was the son of the Roman senator Cassius Apronianus , who was a suffect consul around 175 . His real name was therefore Cassius, but he adopted the Cognomen Dio to prove a maternal descent (controversial in modern research) from the famous orator Dion Chrysostom . Although he was of Greek descent from his mother and although he used the Greek language, which is authoritative in the whole of the Roman East, in his writings and was influenced by Greek thinking, on the other hand, due to his political career and his worldview, he can also be regarded as a Roman .

Cassius Dio spent most of his life in the public service, having had a brilliant career. He went to Rome as a young man, became a senator under Commodus ( Emperor 180-192) and, after the death of Septimius Severus (193-211), curator of the cities of Smyrna and Pergamon in Asia Minor . Around the year 205 he was himself a suffect consul, later proconsul of Africa (a very prestigious post) and finally governor in the provinces of Pannonia superior and Dalmatia . The young Emperor Severus Alexander (222-235) held him in high regard and made him consul for the second time in 229, this time as consul ordinarius and colleague of the ruler, which was a special honor. On the other hand, Dio said he had made himself so unpopular with many people in Rome at this point in time that, at the Emperor's request, he mainly moved his consulate away from the capital. He then returned to his Bithynian homeland, where he died before 235.


Cassius Dio published a Roman history (Greek: Ῥωμαϊκὴ ἱστορία) in 80 books, the fruit of at least 24 years of work. It began with the arrival of the mythical Aeneas in Italy and extended through the founding of Rome to his consular year 229. The work was influenced by the tradition of Roman annals , but at the same time followed the genre rules of Greek historiography. Up to the time of Caesar , his information, as far as one can see from the fragments, is rather summary, after that the work offers more details, and from the reign of Commodus Dio is very detailed in the presentation of what he himself experienced.

Only fragments of the first 36 books have survived, including a considerable part of the 35th book with the war of Lucius Licinius Lucullus against Mithridates VI. von Pontus and the 36th book with the war against the pirates and the campaign of Pompey against the king of Pontus. The following books, up to and including the 54th, are almost completely preserved. They cover the period from 65 to 12 BC. BC, so from the Asia campaign of Pompey and the death of Mithridates to the death of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa . The 55th book has a significant gap. Books 56 to 60 cover the period from 9 to 54 AD and have been preserved in full. Since they are based on good older models that have been lost today, books 37 to 60 are one of the most important narrative sources for the last years of the republic and the early imperial era and are generally considered reliable despite some oversights and errors.

Of the following 20 books, only fragments and scanty excerpts ( epitome ) by the Byzantines Johannes Xiphilinos , a monk of the 11th century and nephew of the patriarch of Constantinople of the same name, and Johannes Zonaras from the 12th century have been preserved, which nevertheless provide important information . The 80th and last book describes the time from 222 AD to 229 AD in the reign of Severus Alexander .

The remaining part of the summary of Xiphilinos begins with the 35th book and extends to the end of the 80th book. It is a very indifferent work that was commissioned by Emperor Michael VII , but should still give a rough impression of the original text. This impression results from a comparison with the completely preserved work of Herodian from 180 to 238, which Dio clearly used as a main source.

The fragments of the first 36 books exist in four versions:

  1. The Fragmenta Valesiana , distributed among various scribes, grammarians, lexicographers, etc., was compiled by the French historian and philologist Henri Valois .
  2. The Fragmenta Peiresciana contain large parts and were found in the De virtutibus et vitiis section of the large collection or portable library compiled on behalf of the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. This included the Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc manuscript .
  3. The fragments of the first 34 books are preserved in the second part of this library, called De legationibus . These are known under the name Fragmenta Ursiniana , as the manuscript containing these texts was found in Sicily by Fulvio Orsini .
  4. The Excerpta Vaticana , which contain fragments from Books 1 to 35 and 61 to 80. To these were added fragments of an unknown late antique scribe who continued the work of Dios until the time of Constantine I ( anonymus post Dionem ; it could have been Petros Patrikios ). Other fragments of Dios, mainly among the first 35 books, were found in two Vatican manuscripts that contain a collection made by Maximus Planudes . The Annals of Zonara also contain several excerpts from Dio's work.

Dio, who took an emphatically senatorial point of view (see senatorial historiography ), took Thucydides as an example, although he does not come close to this. Still, Dio was a very important historian. His style, where the text is not corrupt, is generally clear, although it is partly full of Latinisms; As is customary in ancient historiography, his speeches are usually fictitious. His diligence, however, is beyond question: Dio was able to rely on numerous sources that can no longer be identified in detail. What is certain, however, is that as a senator he also had access to several works that have now been lost, as well as to Senate files. In the time he personally experienced, he was well acquainted with the events in the Roman Empire due to his personal participation in capital city politics and is an important source especially for this.

Dio himself, however, already explicitly made a break with the beginning of the principate , i.e. the de facto monarchy, as regards the reliability of the information he provided:

“Everything that has since [d. H. since the beginning of the empire] can no longer be reported in the same way as the preceding. Because in the past everything was brought before the Senate and before the people, even if it happened at a great distance. Therefore everyone could experience it and many wrote it down […]. From now on, however, most events began to happen in secret, without being openly discussed. And if something did get public, it was met with suspicion because it was no longer verifiable. Whatever is said now, whatever happens, one assumes that it was done according to the wishes of the respective rulers or their co-rulers. And so at the same time there is a lot of talk that has not happened at all, while one learns nothing about many other real events. Everything is now, so to speak, different from what it was in truth, spread in the form of rumors. And it is precisely the size of the empire and the abundance of political events within it that make an accurate representation of history incredibly difficult.

Despite some problems, the value of Dios as a source is overall very high. For the period of the late republic, but above all for the imperial era, it offers valuable material, some of which is not listed anywhere else and is largely considered reliable. The problem is, however, that Dio often transfers developments and conditions from his own time to the conditions in the republic and early imperial times, which sometimes leads to anachronisms that are not always easy to identify. This is particularly evident in the famous “Constitutional Debate” in book 52, which describes a fictional conversation between Octavian and his friends. In the Byzantine period, Dios's history was apparently the main source for many authors regarding Roman history up to the early 3rd century and was often consulted.

Text editions and translations

  • Editio princeps: Tōn Diōnos Rōmaikōn Historiōn Eikositria Biblia = Dionis Romanarum historiarum libri XXIII, à XXXVI ad LVIII vsque . Paris, Robertus Stephanus (Robert Estienne), 1548. Bay's digital collections. State Bibl.
  • Editio princeps of the epitomes of Xiphilinos: Ek tōn Diōnos tou Nikaeōs Romanikōn Historiōn, apo Pompēiou Magnou mechris Alexandrou tou Mamaias, epitomē Iōannou tou Xiphilinou = Dionis Nicaei rerum Mama Romanarum eprumeao Magno ad Alexandanne ad Alexandanne . Paris, Robertus Stephanus, 1551. Google Books
  • Loeb Classical Library , 9 volumes, Greek and English, ed. E. Cary, London 1914–1927 (reprinted 1961–1968; English translation by LacusCurtius )
  • Cassius Dio: Römische Geschichte , Übers. Otto Veh , 5 volumes, Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf 2007, ISBN 978-3-538-03103-6 (with a new introduction; first edition 1985)
  • Cassius Dio: Roman History . Translated from Leonhard Tafel , edited by Lenelotte Möller . Marix, Wiesbaden 2012, ISBN 978-3-86539-293-0


  • Rosemarie Bering-Staschewski: Roman contemporary history with Cassius Dio. Bochum 1981.
  • Lukas de Blois: Emperor and Empire in the Works of Greek-speaking Authors of the Third Century AD . In: Rise and Fall of the Roman World (ANRW) II.34.4 (1998), pp. 3391–3443.
  • Lukas de Blois: People and soldiers with Cassius Dio . In: ANRW II.34.3 (1997), pp. 2650-2676.
  • Detlef Fechner: Investigations into Cassius Dios view of the Roman Republic. Hildesheim / Zurich / New York 1986.
  • Valérie Fromentin et al. (Ed.): Cassius Dion. Nouvelles lectures. 2 volumes, Ausonius, Bordeaux 2016, ISBN 978-2-35613-175-1 (current comprehensive collection of articles).
  • Martin Hose : Cassius Dio: A senator and historian in the Age of Anxiety . In: John Marincola (Ed.), A companion to Greek and Roman Historiography . Oxford 2007, pp. 461–467 (current overview with further literature)
  • Jesper Majbom Madsen: Cassius Dio. London 2020.
  • Fergus Millar : A Study of Cassius Dio . Oxford 1964 (standard work, but partly outdated)
  • Bernd Manuwald : Cassius Dio and Augustus. Philological studies on books 45–56 of the Dionic history . Wiesbaden 1979.
  • Eduard Schwartz : Cassius 40 . In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume III, 2, Stuttgart 1899, Sp. 1684-1722 (also in: Eduard Schwartz: Greek historians . 2nd edition, Leipzig 1959, p. 394ff.).
  • Benedict Simons: Cassius Dio and the Roman Republic. Berlin 2009.

Web links

Wikisource: Cassius Dio  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Cassius Dio  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. A gentile name Claudius in L'Année épigraphique 1971, 430 = Κλ΄ Κάσσιος Δίων is considered an incorrect rendering of L (ucius) .
  2. Benedikt Simons: Studies on the image of the Roman community in books 3–35 of 'Ρωμαϊκά (= contributions to antiquity 273), de Gruyter, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-11-022587-7 , p. 174.
  3. Cassius Dio 53:19.